War in Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Last Stand?

Retired general Tom McInerney thinks the Iraq War will be the end of al Qaeda.

War in Iraq looks like last stand for al Qaeda (Washington Times)

The war in Iraq is increasingly looking more like a showdown with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda followers than a battle primarily against Saddam Hussein loyalists. The shift is making the fight a focal point of the U.S. global war against Islamic terrorists and one that might dictate whether the U.S. wins or loses, said a senior official and an outside expert. “If they fail in Iraq, Osama and his whole crew are finished,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, a military author and analyst.

The changing dynamic was highlighted this week when the U.S. military launched a major offensive in western Iraq, primarily against foreign jihadists who crossed the border with Syria to join the al Qaeda network in Iraq led by Abu Musab Zarqawi. In a troubling sign, U.S. officers said Zarqawi’s terrorists seemed well-trained and well-equipped. The U.S. offensive, code named Operation Matador, entered its third day yesterday in the dusty border towns west of Baghdad near Syria. The command said three Marines and more than 100 enemy fighters have been killed.

“In the Muslim world and extremist world, this fight for Iraq is their key battle,” said Gen. McInerney. “If they lose it, they lose the war. And so the imams are inciting young people, not particular well-educated, to head to Iraq. Most are going through Syria via Damascus. “This is why Iraq is such a fundamental part of the global war on terrorism. When we finally defeat Muslim extremists, it will be the battle in Iraq that defeats them.”

An interesting argument. To be sure, the presence of large numbers of foreign jihadists is a result of the war rather than a cause of it. Still, if “fighting them there rather than here” was a major rationale for the Bush Doctrine, then we’ve succeeded in that regard.

The terrorists are still inflicting major damage and there is little sign that that will change any time soon. As our own leaders acknowledge, Abu Musab Zarqawi has hundreds of well-trained terrorists under his command and there seems to be a pretty steady supply to replace those being killed by U.S. forces.

It’s not entirely clear to me that al Qaeda will be finished when they lose in Iraq. They can lick their wounds and regroup to choose a softer target down the line. But McInerney is probably right that they see this as their major chance at achieving their objectives. Their goals, though, are sufficiently fantastic as to be unachievable. There’s no way that they can “win” in any grand sense. That doesn’t preclude their staging more 9/11-type attacks, though.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Terrorism, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    As an analyst, mightn’t General McInerney choose to favor us with reasons why he thinks that if “worldwide Islamic terror” loses in Iraq, it’s finished everywhere? Because he sure ain’t doing that in this article.

    It basically reads like yet another rehash of “flypaper” talking points. Actual history (Afghanistan in the 1980s and Chechnya in the 1990s) suggests a different likely course: At some point, one side or the other prevails in the local conflict. I’m betting on us, in concert with the Shiites and Kurds. This victory will not mean we’ve killed every anti-American radical who came to Iraq to fight. The survivors will form a battle-hardened cadre dedicated to renewing “the struggle” on their own terms after the fact. The training and networking of their Iraqi experience will prove very valuable toward those ends.

    The only thing going for my theory, as opposed to General McInerney’s, is that mine has happened repeatedly, and his hasn’t.

  2. Good comment Jim.

    The Iraq invasion was about toppling the Sunnis and creating a client state of subservient “parachuted” in exiles. This did not happen when Al-Sistani called for elections and not the US in Baghdad refuse to give the “intelligence” over to the now Shia dominated (read Iran Govt) parliament.

    There are no history lessons now for this clusterfuck.

  3. not = now